Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern prepares for repeat national championship matchup with No. 2 Boston College

Henry Frieman/The Daily Northwestern
Northwestern celebrates a goal against Florida on Friday. The Wildcats booked a second consecutive national title game against No. 2 Boston College with their 15-11 win.

CARY, N.C. — Following a season of remarkable rises, stunning upsets and scintillating superstar showcases, the two teams widely considered the foremost national title contenders during the preseason ultimately reached a Sunday rematch in WakeMed Soccer Park.

Placed on opposite ends of the bracket, No. 1 Northwestern and No. 2 Boston College passed their preliminary NCAA tournament tests — but the most important one remains ahead at 11 a.m. CDT.

Although the Wildcats (18-2, 5-1 Big Ten) and the Eagles (19-3, 7-2 ACC) both suffered slight hiccups during their roads to Championship Sunday, both groups took home their respective conference tournament titles and landed coveted first-round byes.

Boston College downed Princeton and Michigan, booking a Final Four rematch with No. 3 Syracuse on Friday. The Eagles captured their seventh consecutive victory over the Orange behind a dominant defensive display. The 10-7 result marked Syracuse’s lowest scoring output of the season.

After steamrolling through Denver and Penn, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team fought an upset-minded, unseeded Florida squad to a 15-11 win, securing a place in its second consecutive title bout.

Boston College coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein is no stranger to the stage, having qualified for the past seven national championships — though the Eagles have come up short in all but one. 

Ahead of the 2024 campaign’s ultimate clash, here are a few storylines to catch up on.

The last dance for a golden generation

NU’s departing class of seniors and graduate students have left a boundless impact on Amonte Hiller’s program, fueling a resurgence to the game’s peak in 2023. 

Graduate student attackers Izzy Scane and Erin Coykendall have headlined the team’s offense for a half-decade, while senior defenders Kendall Halpern and Carleigh Mahoney — alongside graduate student defenders Jane Hansen and Hannah Gillespie  — have formed defensive mainstays during the past few seasons.

Transfer portal additions in graduate student goalkeeper Molly Laliberty, graduate student midfielder Lindsey Frank and graduate student attacker Mary Schumar will also play their final games for the ’Cats this Sunday.

Once the final horn sounds, Amonte Hiller’s program will have reached the end of an era. Some — like Coykendall and Scane — will likely play at the professional level. But for others, the championship will be one last hurrah in organized lacrosse.

Regardless of the outcome, those suiting up one final time have already penned remarkable chapters during their time in Evanston. However, becoming the first team to win consecutive national titles since Maryland in 2014 and 2015 would certainly mark a tremendous bookend.

A matchup of potent attacks

NU and Boston College boast some of the nation’s premier attackers, who can convert a mere sliver of space into a sure-fire score. 

Scane, Coykendall and sophomore attacker Madison Taylor’s attacking acumen speaks for itself, as the trio have combined for 314 points this season. Scane is just three goals away from overtaking Loyola-Maryland attacker Chase Boyle’s Division I-high 85 goals, while Taylor is seven points behind Florida attacker Maggi Hall’s 119-point national highmark.

Behind attacker Rachel Clark’s 95 points, the new-look Eagle attack packs plenty of ammunition. Attacker McKenna Davis operates as the group’s primary feeder, compiling 68 assists in 22 starts. A marquee portal grab out of Florida, attacker Emma LoPinto has lived up to her billing with highlight-reel behind-the-back goals and 83 points.

With five players tallying at least 40 goals this season, Walker-Weinstein has an array of dynamic performers at her disposal. If Boston College is to elude its recent woes against the ’Cats, the attack must be fiercely fitted for a firestorm.

Smith show takes center stage in the draw circle

Junior midfielder Samantha Smith has bossed the draw circle in the postseason, winning the possession battle in all three of her NCAA tournament appearances. Fresh off an eight draw control outing against the Gators, Smith’s confidence appears sky-high.

The Mill Valley, California, native has pulled down 107 draws this season — following up on a First-Team All-Big Ten campaign in 2023 when she corralled 121 draw controls.

The Eagles had trouble countering Syracuse’s Kate Mashewske in Friday’s matchup as the Orange pulled down 15 of the game’s 20 draws. However, Boston College midfielder Ryan Smith boasts significant experience in the draw circle and her fellow midfielder Cassidy Weeks proves another potential threat.

Both Amonte Hiller’s and Walker-Weinstein’s squads have found ways to win without commanding the draw, but in a battle of stout defenses and efficient attacks, every possession can hold monumental significance.

The brawl between the cage

Laliberty and Eagle goalkeeper Shea Dolce will embark on their fourth career head-to-head matchup. Laliberty has gotten the better of Dolce in all three previous games.

The two keepers stand at opposite ends of their college careers. Laliberty will line up for her final collegiate game, looking to end a six-year journey with a second national title. For Dolce, there will be plenty more college contests down the road — but the sophomore superstar will look to learn from last season’s championship game and flip her team’s result.

Both netminders nabbed double-digit saves in the Final Four, with Laliberty tallying 10 saves and Dolce racking up a pivotal 12-save showing. In a showdown of two of the nation’s premier goalies, plenty of top-drawer saves could be on display.

The bottom line

Two experienced, highly-skilled and national championship-worthy teams will duke it out Sunday afternoon, with temperatures climbing into the high 80s. There’s only so much that stats, resumes and trends can capture. 

The true test lies in WakeMed Soccer Park, where one team will cut down the nets, while the other will reckon with the fate of nearing so close to an end goal — but faltering at the finish line. 

A season which began more than 100 days ago will reach its conclusion. Months of grueling work and preparation built the foundation for this moment. It’s time for one group to seize it.

Email: [email protected]

X: @jakeepste1n

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